Contact:	Suzanne Trimel					For immediate release
		(212) 854-6579					April 10, 1998

Conference, Exhibit on Ideal Woman of Indian Myth To Take Place at Columbia University

For Hindu girls and women the exhortation to "Be Like Sita!" - the idealized woman and wife of Indian myth and legend - has echoed through history. Sita's powerful role past and present will be examined during an international conference April 30 to May 2 at Columbia University. An accompanying exhibit opening April 16 will explore Sita in New York's Indian community. Upheld as a role model for Hindu females, Sita is a central figure of Indian myth often referred to as the "ideal" woman and wife and remembered particularly for her role in the epic Ramayana . The stereotype of the patient, all- suffering, ever-faithful, ever-pure wife has been perpetuated in religious tracts, literature, social convention, politics and scholarship. The Sita stereotype has come under increasing criticism from feminists, even as it continues to be promoted by traditionalist voices. Sponsored by the Dharama Hinduja Indic Research Center at Columbia in collaboration with the Asia Society, the conference will bring together scholars, writers, artists, feminists and traditionalists to reflect on the meaning of Sita. An accompanying exhibit opening April 16 in the Rotunda of Columbia's Low Memorial Library (Broadway at 116th Street) will explore Sita in the imagination of New York through stories, memories, worship, rituals and popular images from the Indian community. The exhibit, "Sita in the City: The Ramayana's Heroine in New York" will be on display 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. Monday through Friday through May 3 and will feature images of Sita as worshipped in Hindu temples and homes, by contemporary South Asian artists, in children's art, books, comics, posters and other popular media acquired in the metropolitan New York area. Text and images are drawn from interviews with Hindu worshippers, community leaders, children, and women's organizations in the metropolitan area. "For many women Sita is neither a political figure nor an oppressive cultural stereotype but rather a familiar figure whose strength and poignancy instill feelings of confidence, connection and affection," said Mary McGee, associate professor of classicial Hinduism at Columbia. "During the conference we will reflect on the process of embracing, rejecting and transforming role models, in particular Sita." Madhu Kishwar, editor of Manushi, an Indian women's journal, will deliver the keynote address at 6 P.M. Thursday, April 30 at the Asia Society (725 Park Avenue at 70th Street). Ms. Kishwar's lecture, "Sita Sudhaar versus Ram Sudhaar" will explore two contrary responses to Sita: the "modernist-feminist" response, which projects Sita as a slavish wife and wishes to goad her into rebellion, and the mainstream response, which wants society to become more worthy of Sita. Highlights of the program May 1-2 at Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (420 West 118th Street at Amsterdam Avenue) include a lecture by Nabaneeta Dev Sen of Jadavpur University, Calcutta, on women's retellings of the Ramayana; a discussion on the role of Sita in the lives of immigrants in the United States and Great Britain; the premier of a performance piece by choreographer and scholar Ananya Chatterjea, "From Sita: Lament, Fury and a Plea for Peace"; and a lecture by Lauri Patton of Emory University on "The Politics of Sita." Friday's program will take place at the Dag Hammarskjold Faculty Lounge on the sixth floor of SIPA and Saturday's program will take place at Altschul Auditorium on the third floor. According to the curators of the Sita exhibit, Columbia graduate students Anne Murphy and Shana Sippy, "Each time Sita's story is invoked it takes on new meanings and interpretations. Just as there are many different versions of the Ramayana story, each version reflecting different historical and social circumstances, so too there are many Sitas," the curators write. For example, at the Geeta Temple in Elmhurst, Queens, a 13-year-old girl told the curators: "Sita is my second mother." By contrast, the curators said they found members of a support group for battered women, sponsored by Sakhi for South Asian Women, unanimous in their view that Sita was a terrible role model. The events at Columbia are free and open to the public. For more information, the public should call the Dharam Hinduja Indic Research Center at (212) 854-5300. Call (212) 517-ASIA for tickets to the Asia Society lecture ($7 for members and $10 for non-members). This document is available at 4.10.98 19,312